The rise of identity politics

Rethinking State Politics in India: Regions Within Regions
Ed Ashutosh Kumar.
Routledge. Pages 501. Rs 995.

Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

THIS book comes with a new thought put forth by scholars of repute who believe that to solve the problems of the various states of India, we need to shift our focus from the state to the "regions within regions". Development or lack of development is the issue which we face at every level. Regionalism as a demand arises when a region feels that it is not getting its due. We have the example of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh that parted ways with their respective parent state on the issue of lack of development.

What comes across as fresh, in this book, are the various papers which discuss the problems of people of Harit Pradesh or those of Coorg in Karnataka or of the tribals in Jharkhand. While problems of some areas are in news frequently, there are, unfortunately, so many that are yet to be discussed. This book fills in that lacuna. A paper by Pampa Mukherjee sums up the problem of the backwardness of hill areas of Uttar Pradesh by saying that "internal colonialism, systemic exploitation and development neglect of the region state" have been the key reasons for dissatisfaction of the people.

The example of Coorg is one that few regions face. Muzaffar Assadi proves the "exploitation, deprivation and appropriation" of the area by stating that though Coorg pumps approximately Rs 600 crore to the state exchequer in the form of income tax, only Rs 10 crore are being spent on the infrastructure in the state. This and other reasons contribute to the Coorgis feeling deprived. A study of the north-east by Samir Kumar Das throws light on a part of India that has often been in the news for extreme feelings of regionalism. "Ethnic cleansing" assumes new meaning here and is used, Das contends, as a strategy by the militant groups of the region. Here, we have the demand of Dimaraji and Purbanchal. Rajeshwari Deshpande talks about the Lingayats in Maharashtra and how they have raised their demands by coming together to be in a better bargaining position.

"Emergence of Dalit Organisations in Tamil Nadu" by Neeru Sharma Mehra discusses the assertion of Dalits in the state and the pattern is compared in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Kerala. In Punjab while Dalits tend to join deras, in Uttar Pradesh "Ambedkarisation" is empowering the Dalits. In Tamil Nadu caste has become the focal point of the regional parties. Another interesting study is by Sudha Pai of the Mala-Madiga conflict in Andhra Pradesh. Both the groups are numerically significant among the scheduled caste groups in the state. The conflict is vital to the region yet is unheard at the national level or even outside the region. Pai feels "for building of a more egalitarian and democratic society, reservations are clearly not enough". She further says, "For reservations to improve the life chances of disadvantaged groups, other components of affirmative action will have to be better operationalised".

The various scholars try to understand the backwardness and deprivation of a conflict-ridden region. Rama Rao Bonagani explores the demand for Telangana, while Ronki Ram correctly states that "`85we need to underline the fact that though caste and social exclusion are prevalent throughout the country, they have distinctive features across the different regional states".

The book is an eye-opener to the "identity politics" crisis in India. We have the demand of Mithilanchal in Bihar, Budelkhand comprising areas of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Gorkhaland and Kamtapur in West Bengal, and Braj Pradesh and Awadh Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh besides many more. Ashutosh Kumar in the "Introduction" writes: "`85identity politics is necessary but not a sufficient condition of democracy building, although there is no denying that continuous non-recognition of injustice and deficit of democracy only create and complicate problems for it."

Regionalism when given precedence over national interests can be detrimental for the economy of both India and the respective state. The nation is suffering because of this and discussions by such scholars can help us find solutions. The book which is bound to generate further interest and concern regarding the causes of regionalism is a must read for the teachers and students of political science for it not only informs the reader but also imparts dynamics knowledge.